Home court win soothes rocky start for Monticello
For any athletic team, it’s always good to play at home. For Monticello, Tuesday night must have felt like heaven.
After suffering through four losses to open the 2017-18 basketball season, the Billies got their Dan Coston Field House season started the right way with a 67-55 victory over Smackover. It was technically a conference game, as both are members are the Arkansas Activities Association’s Class 3A4A, District 12.
This winter will be the last, at least for a while, for the Billies to be forced to play in that “blended conference.” The AAA rearranged all schools under Class 7A for the 2016-18 cycle, and combined the six classifications into three for the regular season in basketball—and some other sports.
Monticello, Crossett, Hamburg and Warren from the old 4A, District 8 joined 8-3A to form a mega-conference, as did other schools across the state. The other four teams in 8-4A—DeWitt, Dumas, Dollarway and Star City—were sent north to form 10-3A4A. The eight 8-4A schools only get together, as it stands now, for the postseason. That district tournament is scheduled for Feb. 19-24, 2018 in Dumas.
Next winter, the Billies will have to deal with new conference opposition—again. While the old 8-4A will be somewhat restored, Camden Fairview and Magnolia will replace DeWitt and Dollarway in all sports except football. Dumas will also drop down to Drew Central’s 8-3A, making 8-4A only seven teams for the 2018-20 AAA reclassification cycle.
That’s in the future, though. In the present schedule, Monticello will play the 8-3A teams. After losses to Marion, Brookland and Paragould in the Honda of Jonesboro Invitational Tournament at Brookland to begin 2017-18, the Billies dropped a 64-44 decision at Jacksonville last Tuesday (because oif early holiday deadlines, the Advance-Monticellonian was unable to report on that game in last week’s edition).
So the home win over the Buckaroos was doubly sweet for players, coaches and fans alike.
“We scheduled tough teams early,” longtime Monticello head boys’ basketball coach Wayne Sherrer said after Tuesdy night’s win, “to gauge where we are and what we have to do to get better.”
Not to say 8-3A teams aren’t included in those “tough teams” Sherrer noted, but Monticello pretty much cruised through the first year of 12-3A4A at 17-1 last winter. Only a 14-point defeat at perennial 3A basketball powerhouse McGehee kept the Billies from an unbeaten “league” record a year ago.
In its first two 12-3A4A meetings with Smackover, Monticello easily ran past the Buckaroos 58-40 on the road and totally destroyed them at home 87-29. Last year’s win over Smackover was Monticello’s first of the season, too, and was the springboard to a 20-8 overall record, a runner-up finish in the 8-4A district tournament and another trip to the state playoffs.
This season’s come-from-behind victory just might propel the Billies to reach even higher. Senior Devario Ballard led Monticello with 21 points Tuesday night but the hosts had to overcome a three-point deficit at intermission.
They easily managed that behind Ballard and sophomore teammates Shannon Strickland and Keshaun Pippen. The 10th-grade guard tandem scored 15 and 10 points, respectively, against Smackover.
Against Jacksonville, Monticello’s Achilles heel was two low-scoring quarters. The Billies produced only five points in the first and third periods while the Red Devils ran out to an insurmountable lead.
Junior A.J. Davis paced Monticello with 15 points at Jacksonville while Strickland chipped in with 14.
Next, Monticello hosts Fordyce at 5 p.m. Friday in another 12-3A4A contest. Actually, the Billies get to settle into their league scedule after the first four non-conference games now, with the exception of hosting Ashdown on Dec. 19 and a trip to the Beebe Holiday Tournament on Dec. 28-30.
The first “Showdown in M-Town” with Drew Central comes quickly. With the two local schools technically in the same regular-season conference, the Billies and Pirates play twice—instead of the usual one time on a Saturday for all the city marbles.
Monticello visits Drew Central Gymnasium on Tuesday, Dec. 5 for three games (junior girls and both senior teams) beginning at 5 p.m.
Drew Central will return the favor on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018 when both senior squads and the junior boys made the short trip to Dan Coston Field House for a 5 p.m. tipoff.